For the past few seasons, the New York Giants' bread and butter has been their offensive line and pass rush.
Now, it appears that their bread has gone stale and the butter has been sitting in a busted refrigerator for over a year.
Tom Coughlin came to the Giants with an agenda. He started coaching in a different generation but knew that the key to winning laid with the big men.
A stellar pass rush coupled with a tone-setting offensive line could keep a team in any game, regardless of overall talent disparity.
Sure enough, Coughlin had achieved his goal merely one year into his tenure. After paving the way for a dominant Tiki Barber, the offensive line proved its legitimacy by allowing Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, or Derrick Ward to achieve success of their own.
Additionally, the starting five on the offensive line went to battle together every game from opening day of 2007 until a Sunday night meeting with the Arizona Cardinals roughly a month ago.
Simultaneously, defensive line coach Mike Waufle was quietly developing his own arsenal in the trenches.
After being drafted in 2003, Osi Umenyiora progressively improved until an explosion in 2005. Opposite of future Hall-of-Fame end Michael Strahan, he sacked the quarterback 14.5 times en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance.
During that season, another project began. A slim third-round pick out of Notre Dame by the name of Justin Tuck began his quest for NFL recognition behind two elite defensive ends.
After riding the pine and renting out a piece of the rehab center in his first two seasons, Tuck made his mark in 2007 with 10 sacks and a fat contract extension.
But his mark on the team was never more apparent than when he tortured Tom Brady throughout the Super Bowl that season with two sacks and multiple pressures.
But as is life in the professional football, times have changed. Five seasons is an eternity in the NFL, and many of the linemen who have become household names for Big Blue appear to be going downhill.
Rich Seubert has admittedly struggled with a shoulder injury he suffered in training camp. Kareem McKenzie has had countless nagging injuries since 2008. Shaun O’Hara has been butting heads with the opponent’s biggest players for nearly 10 seasons.
The winds have shifted for Big Blue’s offensive line, and now the results are reflecting it.
Jacobs has received a heap of criticism for his startling drop off in yards per carry, but it is more of a reflection of the offensive line than anything else.
All of a sudden, this unit can’t produce any penetration. It’s impossible to expect Jacobs to run at his 2007 rate when there are no holes to run through.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side, the pass rush has been relatively non-existent. More importantly, mainstays up the middle such as Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield have yet to be heard from this season, and we are quickly coming up on December.
Rocky Bernard has proven to be a worthless signing and Chris Canty has yet to patrol the defensive tackle spot due to his leg injuries.
This is likely because the Giants needed some semblance of an impact from their prized 2009 offseason acquisition, and it is too late for him to learn a new position in a new defense.
As opposed to the Giants offensive line, the defensive front is conducive for running attacks. Too bad, it’s the opponent’s running game that is the beneficiary. Cutback lanes have been prevalent, and running backs have been able to run outside with ease.
With five games to go, the Giants find themselves in a similar position as they did following Thanksgiving weekend 2006.
Mathias Kiwanuka let go of Vince Young to cap off their third straight loss heading into a showdown with Dallas. Despite both teams going in opposite directions, the Giants were still within a last-second field goal of beating their division rivals.
At this point, it may not even matter. If neither line gets going, the Giants have no chance of making the playoffs. What was once the Giants' biggest strength may ultimately prove to be their downfall for 2009.